The complexity of climate change compels us to attack the issue from multiple angles and diverse disciplines. Only if we (humanity) are united in our effort to stop and possibly even reverse this problem will we succeed, which is why the US State Department held “Intersections: Climate Change, Global Affairs, and the Digital Age.” The forum brought together 40 State Department alumni to network, share knowledge, and brainstorm big-idea solutions to tackling climate change.

The diversity of disciplines and experience levels represented emphasized how climate change is not just a problem for scientists to solve. From politicians to biologists, CEOs to undergraduate students, each brought a common concern for the environment. It was inspiring to see how different disciplines approached the issue, from geoengineering like Ice 911 to documentary filmmaking about rising sea levels and bicycle advocacy. For my part, I was able to share how architects are addressing sustainability and how Overland is a leader in this realm, from some of our most sustainable projects to our commitment to the 2030 challenge.

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I addressed the forum from an architectural perspective.

Despite the variety of perspectives represented, some common themes and challenges emerged. The most prominent was that climate change is no longer a scientific issue, it is a communications and public engagement issue. Over ninety percent—in some studies one hundred percent—of scientists agree that human-caused climate change is occurring. However, individual behavior, industry standards, laws, and policies have not adjusted to the full implications of climate scientists’ conclusions. Thus, we need a renewed emphasis on climate communication strategies such as the new climate communication initiative at Yale. Another shared emphasis was climate change mitigation: now that people around the world are beginning to experience the direct impacts of climate change, dealing with the effects has become just as important as preventative measures like emissions reduction. This is where concepts like resilient cities come into play.

While climate change remained the central topic, it was framed and informed by both global affairs and the digital age. These, too, are topics where Overland is at the forefront. Much of our work in China, like the Qinhuai Riverwalk Development and the Gucheng Lake Master Plan, revolves around responsible water use, and we are proud to work with international partners such as Arup to see these projects through.

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Right: Qinhuai Riverwalk Development; Left: Gucheng Lake Master Plan. ©2016 Overland Partners, Inc. All rights reserved.

Finally, we have the digital age. One thing that distinguished this conference from others was a follow-on mechanism: after the conference ended, attendees were able to form teams and apply for a $10,000 grant for a project that would address the topics of the seminar. My team of four put together a proposal to leverage virtual and augmented reality technology for issues of urban sustainability—ideas for helping people connect with each other around issues that affect all of us.

Overland happens to be using some of the same cutting-edge VR technologies presented at the conference and incorporated into our grant proposal (I’m starting to notice a pattern here, aren’t you?).  Just see Steve Fong’s post on our most recent VR adventures for a taste of what we are doing.

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A client experiences a project in virtual reality at Overland.

One word in the title I haven’t addressed yet is “intersections.” More than a topic, it is a way of working and thinking. Only through the lens of intersection can one understand how climate change, global affairs, and digital technology are actually one complex issue; how an architecture firm would benefit from meeting with scientists and anthropologists or how virtual reality could help to better our actual built environment. Intersection is also essential to the way that Overland works. Our projects, rather than a representation of the siloed ideals of the architectural profession, are instead representative of an intersection of needs: our clients’, our consultants’, our own, our community’s, and our world’s.

  • Rick Archer

    Ben,

    Great post on a most important topic. Rewarding to see you as an emerging leader In this arena and in the field of architecture.